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Pennsylvania Amends Act 47 to Give the Commonwealth More Oversight and its Municipalities Less Time to Reorganize

Pennsylvania’s legislature recently approved House Bill No. 1773, an overhaul to its Municipalities Financial Recovery Act, commonly known as “Act 47.”  HB 1773 was signed into law by Governor Tom Corbett on October 31, 2014.

Act 47 was established in 1987 to provide the Commonwealth, largely through the Governor’s office, greater oversight over financially troubled municipalities.  Under Act 47 (currently and after the amendments go into effect), if a municipality is found to be in financial distress the Commonwealth is authorized to pursue a series of escalating steps to address the municipality’s financial problems, ranging from a coordinator to a receiver selected by the Governor.  At each level of state oversight, municipalities are required to adopt or abide by recovery plans to address their respective financial distress.  No Act 47 plan may unilaterally alter the rights of bondholders.

The primary changes to Act 47 include the following:

  • Termination Date:  The amendments establish a maximum 5 year exit strategy.  While the amendment does not stop a municipality from returning to Act 47, its intent is to move municipalities more quickly through an Act 47 rehabilitation.  This change will impact municipalities, such as Pittsburgh, which is presently under Act 47 oversight.  The amendment will require all current Act 47 municipalities to exit Act 47 oversight within 5 years from the date of their most recently enacted recovery plan.

  • Early Intervention Program:  With the goal of preventing municipalities from experiencing significant financial distress, the Commonwealth will establish an early intervention program to provide resources to municipalities to manage potential financial distress.  This early intervention program may provide financial support to municipalities through grants (subject to partial matching by the municipality) to develop plans for fiscal stability.

  • Ability to Raise Certain Taxes:  The amendment will allow a municipality under certain circumstances to petition to triple the applicable local services tax.  However, the amendments exempt Pittsburgh from this potential opportunity.

  • Disincorporation:  While it is unlikely to be a common occurrence, the amendments outline a process for disincorporation of “nonviable municipalities.”  For purposes of the disincorporation provisions, the definition of municipality excludes any city of the first class – which only includes Philadelphia. The process of disincorporation involves both state court and gubenatorial oversight. Upon disincorporation, the municipality is established as an unincorporated services district and the municipality’s assets (including bondholder collateral) would vest in the Commonwealth and be held in trust for the residents, property owners and other parties in interest.  While the amendments appear to preserve bondholder rights to collateral and payments of debt obligations, bondholders involved with a municipality that may disincorporate must be vigilant in preserving their rights to both their collateral and future debt service payments.

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About this Author

William W. Kannel, Bankruptcy Attorney, Mintz Levin Law Firm, Bankruptcy & Restructuring Insolvency & Creditor Rights Litigation Directors & Officers Litigation Chapter 9 & Municipal Insolvency Litigation
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Bill is a nationally recognized bankruptcy attorney with extensive experience in corporate and municipal reorganizations and debt restructurings both in and out of court. He represents creditors and debtors across a wide range of industries throughout the country in all phases of distressed debt negotiations, bankruptcy litigation, and distressed asset acquisitions. Bill is also recognized as one of the leading attorneys in the nation for his work representing bond trustees and bondholders in Chapter 9 bankruptcies and other governmental and municipal insolvencies.

Bill is the chair...

617-348-1665
Adrienne Walker, Mintz Levin Law Firm, Boston, Finance and Bankruptcy Law Attorney
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Adrienne is a restructuring and commercial finance attorney with significant bankruptcy litigation experience and deep capabilities advancing creditors' rights and representing debt holders in Chapter 11 and Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcies. She skillfully handles bankruptcy matters and workouts in state and federal courts, often representing strategic trade creditors, official and ad-hoc committees, bondholders, debtors, lease parties, and trustees. Her commercial lending work involves advising borrowers on private equity and secured financing transactions. Adrienne works with clients in many industries, with a particular focus on the life sciences, health care, retail, senior living, and manufacturing. 

Adrienne has significant experience in workouts, restructuring, and bankruptcy matters. She represents corporate debtors, secured and unsecured creditors, lessors and lessees, and trustees in federal, state, and out-of-court restructurings. Her clients represent a variety of industries, including retail, textile manufacturers, biopharmaceutical, computer software, aviation, jewelry, and automotive.

She is also experienced in creditors' rights, commercial litigation, and commercial arbitration. Adrienne’s recent experience includes successfully counseling corporate debtors as they navigate the complexities of Chapter 11, often in connection with a Section 363 sale of the client’s business. In addition, she routinely represents secured creditors and derivative contract parties in maximizing return on their agreements.

617-348-1612